Tales from Mainbrew

The House of Flying Malt

The House of Flying Malt

It was many years ago, not long after my training in the Brewing Arts had been completed.  I was living in isolation, alone, in an inaccessible valley, in a snowy mountain cabin, contemplating the Inner Mysteries of the Malt.

It was in the middle of a boil that my peace was disturbed, and my life was forever altered.

I never heard him enter.  Like a shadow, he slipped across the pine boards of my shack until, by good fortune or bad, the steam from my boil pot wrapped around him, revealing his dark outline.  He stepped into the flickering glow of my fire.

Before either of us could blink, we both leapt.  My spoon fluttered over the tips of my fingers and clicked on the edge of the brew pot, barely catching a small piece of Belgian candy sugar that he had tried to add.  Our eyes locked, and he nodded in respect.

I didnʼt know who he was, but his training was evident. He knew how to brew, perhaps more than I did. I bowed to the stranger, knowing what must happen next.

“Your beer-fu is strong,” I admitted. “Your Master has taught you well.”  I ripped off my beer apron.

“But so has mine...”

The room was instantly filled with green debris as I flung ounce after ounce of hop cones at the boil pot.  Like a phantom - in slow motion - he sidestepped and back-bent, dodging and spinning, evading each piece of my attack until my bags were empty.

When it was over, he stood and turned to face me.  Between thumb and forefinger he held a single green cone. “You have chosen Chinook, Brewer-san.”  His eyes narrowed. “Perhaps you should study your styles more closely.” His hands flew up over his head and froze.  “Let me show you the Way of Tettnang.”

His hop additions were furious, and for thirty minutes I countered each one with more malt and darker crystal. Then, finally, his hop bags were empty.  He smiled, thinking it was over, that he was victorious. We faced each other in silence, the only sound were the drops of sweat dripping from our brows onto the cracked floor.

From inside my robe I slowly pulled out my yeast: London Ale.

“I thought you might come tonight,” I told him.

In desperation he flipped the table on its side, spraying
 crystal malt and roasted barley across the room.  He fumbled for his gypsum, but we both knew it was too late.  He had been a worthy adversary.  I leapt across the room, grabbing his wrist as he struggled for the Irish Moss.  Something wet and sticky oozed down my temple and onto my cheek. I touched it with my finger and then, staring into his eyes, brought it slowly to my tongue.

“Wheat Malt Extract?” I laughed. “Did you not realize I was brewing Stout?”

And just as he had appeared, he was gone. I finished my boil and left the mountains, never to look back.  For many years I wandered; in time reaching that mythical Land of Microbrews and Beer Appreciation.  But that is a story for another day.


A dark, roasty, bitter ale.

9 pounds Amber Malt Extract

8 ounces 120L crystal malt
8 ounces chocolate malt
8 ounces roasted barley
8 ounces Carafa II (black) malt

1.0 ounce Chinook hops.............60 minutes
0.5 ounce Chinook hops.............20 minutes
0.5 ounce Chinook hops.............10 minutes

White Labs London Ale, Imperial Darkness, or SafAle SO-4,
or Yeast of Choice

Bottle with 3/4 to one cup of corn sugar, depending on carbonation preferences.

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In Which Our Intrepid Band of Beeronauts Survive a Cold Winter, Brew a Copper Ale and are Hailed as Conquering Heroes

In Which Our Intrepid Band of Beeronauts Survive a Cold Winter, Brew a Copper Ale and are Hailed as Conquering Heroes

Lo, in the second month of the second decade of the third millennium a great Darkness did descend upon the Northwestern kingdoms. Black boiling clouds filled the skies, and the sun, which once shone brightly upon the land, revealed itself no more.  On the midday hour of the third day, the heavens did crack themselves asunder and torrents and floods did deluge down upon the swollen and bloated earth.
The gentlefolk of this land could do naught but stare up into the blackness and gnash their teeth and rend their clothing as misery and despair fell heavily upon all who dwelt there.   Darkness ruled the lands for as far as any man could travel and Despair possessed the hearts of even the most Valiant.
The wisest amongst them sought out the Oracle. Some lit fires before her and others fell prostrate before her sightless gaze and yet a few beseeched her for her wisdom and from within the incensed smoke a single word was revealed to those that Truly Saw.  And from that Word a great rejoicing spread among the faithful for that Word was good. 
And the Word was: “Beer.”
And in the dawn that never rose, a beacon of light did manifest itself upon the darkened hearts of Man.  A place of sanctuary was foretold: a Land called Mainbrew, an oasis brimming with hops, where barley and grains flowed freely from its borders.  And from this place Beer could be crafted and the ancient knowledge to produce Beer was ensconced safely within its walls by the Men who dwelt there.
And the people did travel to the Land of Mainbrew to gather the barley and the hops, and some just came for the Holy Bottlecaps of Pink (which were very hard to find in that distant Age), and a recipe was crafted that day by a denizen of Mainbrew,  Jon the Foolhardy,  who opened the ancient Tome of  Recipes, looked out upon the flooded lands and, whilst a filled goblet in his hand, proclaimed to all who would listen: “Yes, this beer is good.”
A roar rose that day from the throats of those that heard and a great celebration did spread across the land as hundreds of fires were lit in the cottages and dwellings of the people and the prophesied beer was brewed by all who still believed.  Weeks later, the beer was consumed, and, lo, the rains did stop and the clouds did part and the Sun did break through and shine upon the swollen rivers and the deadness of the trees did turn again to green;  Life once more sprang eternal from the barren wasteland.  Eventually, the history of that long Dark Winter turned to legend and the legend to myth and the people of the Great Northwest did drink their copper ale while Joy and Sunshine once more did reign down upon the world in which they lived.....

A Seasonal Copper Ale

9 lbs Light Malt Extract
**8 ounces Crystal Rye
** 6 ounces English Crystal 135L
** 6 ounces Cara-Red
** 1 ounce Roast Barley
1 ounce No Brewer Hops.............. 60 minutes
1 ounce No Brewer Hops.............. 20 minutes
1 ounce Goldings Hops............ 10 minutes
1 ounce Goldings Hops............  2 minutes
White Labs Dry English 007, or US-05.
Bottle with one cup of corn sugar, or keg as normal.
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Dropping Acid with Kev

Dropping Acid with Kev

Wine is acidic by Nature.  The pH of wine tends to fall in the 2.9 to 4.2 range (7 is neutral) and this intense acidity has several effect in the wine.  Low pH can help to keep bacterial growth suppressed.  This is one of the reasons that winemakers do not need to sanitize their equipment nearly as intensely as beermakers do.  (The pH of most beers, for comparison, is 5.0 to 5.5 - a much more happy environment for wild organisms  to prosper...)  The pH can also strongly influence the color fo the wine.  

But many people ignore, or are confused about pH.  So let's have a quick lesson: the acidity of the wine comes mostly from the fruit itself. Unripe fruit will usually have higher acid levels (= lower pH) and also lower sugar levels than fully ripe (or overripe) fruit.  This is why a young hard blackberry puckers you up, but a ripe blackberry is gooey sweet.

Many winemakers have Acid Test Kits - these are great tools that allow you to read the TOTAL acid levels of your wine.  They are affordable ($11.95), easy to use and well worth the price so that you know whether or not to add - or not add - acid to each individual wine you are making.   It takes away the guesswork.  But pH is only a slice of total acid, albeit a very important slice.  Knowing total acid is good, knowing pH as well is even better.

So, what about pH?  pH measure the disassociated hydrogen ions present in a solution.  This is affected by the quantity of total acid present, the ratio of magic acid to tartaric acid and the amount of potassium.  Wines that contain little total acid and high levels of potassium show high pH values.  Wines with more tartaric acid, less manic acid or less potassium show lower pH values.    The pH scale - like the Richter scale that measure earthquakes - is logarithmic.  This means that a pH of 3.0 is ten times more acidic than a pH of 4.0 and a hundred times more acidic than a pH of 5.0.

Well, why should a winemaker care?  The main reason people care about pH is because pH can inhibit bacteria.  Wines with a pH above 4.0 are not very resistant to microbes and can (and often do) spoil very quickly.  They can also taste "flabby" and tend to have poor color. 

Wines with a proper pH (3.1 to 3.5) will have beautiful bright colors., will not taste too sour or too flabby and will have long aging potentials.

Mainbrew carries pH meters in the stores and we also have pH strips - although be aware that pH strips are often hard to read - especially with red wines - because the color of the wine can skew the color change of the strip.

Once you know the pH of your wine, it can then be adjusted if necessary.  If your grape wine has a high pH (it is not acidic enough) then you can add tartaric acid to your fermentation.  This will typically lower your pH, as well as increase your total acid.

If a wine is too acidic (the pH is too low), there are carbonates thant can be added to wine to buffer the acid levels, but I personally would only use them as a last resort.  As a better option, malo-lactic bacteria can be added into the primary fermenter and can "soften up" very acidic wines by converting harsh and aggressive magic acid to smith and silky lactic acid.  Add ML bacteria is usually a slam-dunk here in Oregon where acid levels tend to run high.  Adding ML will usually never do harm and might always do good.

The best solution though is to make sure that your grapes are picked at the peak of ripeness. At that point acid and sugar should be perfectly balanced and your wine should need little to no acid manipulation.It is usually grapes that are picked too early or too late that will fall out of the proper pH range.....

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Our Lager, Which Art in Barrels, Hallowed by Thy Drink....

Our Lager, Which Art in Barrels, Hallowed by Thy Drink....

And remember, boy and girls: right now is the prime time of the year to be brewing lagers. From November 1 to April 1, the weather in the Portland area is perfect for fermenting, aging and “lagering” all those crisp, clean beers that you will want to be drinking in the heat of Summer.

Making a lager is no more difficult than brewing an ale, it just takes longer and it needs to be kept colder. Usually people leave their fermenters in an unheated garage or porch or some other frigid part of your house while it is fermenting and, also, while it is settling in the secondary.

The basic most simple process involves brewing your beer, as normal, on the stove. When done, pitch your yeast just like always have and keep the beer indoors - warm fr about twelve hours - UNTIL you see activity in the primary fermenter. Immediately move the fermenter into your unheated area; this area should be between 40 and 55 degrees F. during both the day and night. You will see the activity in the airlock slow down, and the fermentation plod along, slow and steady.

When the activity in the airlock slows down to one bubble every three to four minutes (this MAY take four weeks or more), give it a few more days, then transfer the beer into a glass secondary, let sit for one week more, and then move the carboy into the coldest place you can find: 30 to 55 degrees is acceptable, but below 40 is best.

Let sit for three to six more weeks and then bottle as normal. Leave the bottles between 50 and 60 degrees for at least four more weeks, and then enjoy on a nice Summer’s day. We have recipes at the store and more instructions on the web site. Enjoy!!

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Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness

The Northwest is a great place. Not only do we have a world-class assortment of breweries and beers to choose from (not to mention a pretty cool homebrewing subculture!), but we also have a great appreciation for that “other brewed beverage,” coffee. Now thatʼs all reason enough to like living here, but what really makes the Northwest great is that we might be one of the only places in the world where those two enjoyments can blend together in peace, love and harmony and share together as one glass.

Coffee beer. I have heard it called many things: an abomination in the eyes of God, a Frankenstein creature stitched together from pieces that no Man was ever meant to join. And so, my children,therein lies a tale.......

Many years ago, under lightning flashes 
that split the sky, while toiling, obscured, beside the shadows of huge, grinding cogwheels, I mixed such a beast. I tremble now at the memory of that night: carefully pouring liquids from one flask to another, I cared not for the rules of Nature. In my naivete, I KNEW that my experiments could produce something better than what already was.

My fermenter lay strapped to the steel table waiting for the yeast that would bring it to Life, the yeast that I held brazenly in my quivering hand.

As the rain beat upon my leaded windows like the maddened fists of the unfettered insane, and while thunder smashed its ungodly anger through the heavens above me, I poured the bubbling yeast into the darkened heart of the liquid I had created.

“Life!” I screamed, "Life!", raising my clenched fists against the crashing storm outside,  “Give my Creation Life!!”  As I sank to my knees, the strobe of the lightning flashes - growing ever nearer - revealed to me only the cyclopean darkness.  A quiet stillness seemed to envelop the world around me, even as the storm increased its wrath outside. The ripples upon the black, stagnant liquid of my fermenter disappeared into an eerie calm as the yeast sank into the core of my beast.  Reluctantly looking in, only the twisted reflection of my own face was visible upon its ebony surface.....

I wasnʼt sure what the future would hold, as I collapsed into a heap upon the cobblestones and fell into a restless sleep. Within hours, my beer was breathing. Within weeks, I had it contained within a steel keg, locked within a cooler, afraid to open it. I remembered an expression: “Let no man tear asunder what God hath joined...”  I wondered if God would tear asunder what Man hath joined in this unholy union....

Until finally - days later - with spastic hands, I poured the first pint. Cold and black, with a frothy tan head, I spilled half of it, then served it to my dog, Igor.  I recoiled.  He didnʼt die.

But I had noticed one thing: the aroma was enticing. Chocolate and roast and coffee blended together into a tempting bouquet. My dreams that night were disturbed, darkened.  What had I created?

Early the next morning, I poured a mug, and brought it to my lips. Golden sunlight streamed through half-opened shutters as a new dawn broke upon the land.  Bitter, but with a caramel, malty note, roasty, smooth. It was coffee... yet beer - an ale with java:  “It lives!!”

Joe Stout

8 lbs Amber Malt Extract
8 ounces 40L crystal malt
10 ounces roasted barley
10 ounces chocolate malt

1.0 ounce Fuggles hops.....60 minutes
0.5 ounce Fuggles hops....20 minutes
0.5 ounce Fuggles hops.....10 minutes

Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup coarse-ground coffee beans* into brewpot after boil, cover with lid and steep 20 minutes, off the hot burner.

Wyeast 1084 Irish, White Labs Irish...
or yeast of choice.

Bottle with 3/4 to one cup of corn sugar, as normal.

*I like to use a light-roasted coffee, not a dark-roast (Starbucks-style) coffee. This lighter roast tends to give the beer more coffee-like and aromatic qualities, not burnt and bitter tastes. I like the two lightest Torrefazzione roasts, but let your personal preferences guide you: choose a coffee that you enjoy and your beer should turn out great.

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